Writing and ADHD

For years, I assumed I could only be good at one thing at a time. If I was competent at work, that meant I was falling apart at home, or vice versa. Juggling and prioritizing tasks is just not in the ADHD wheelhouse.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I was diagnosed with ADHD well into my late twenties. It was painful to accept my lost potential, especially once I took medicine and realized that I’d basically lived most of my life with a tiny gremlin in my head, misplacing my things, and distracting me while I worked.

But I also, out of necessity, developed good habits. And when I’m medicated, that means I can knock out a book every two months AND hold a day job writing 4,000 words or more a day.

When I’m unmedicated, it means I can accidentally stare at my computer blankly for two hours researching dragon scales and anthrax (don’t ask, and yes, I am probably now on a list. The hazards of a ghostwriting paranormal cozy mystery writer!).

And so, while complaining to my colleagues about this, I realized I might actually have something to share, because I still have to work until the meds get refilled, and I know many of you are struggling with NaNoWriMo.

As always, a disclaimer — these tips work for me, everyone’s different, and your ADHD may vary. That said:

Tip One

Double monitors. OMG, double monitors. I write on one, I research on the other. I have the outline on one, and I’m writing on the other. See a pattern? The writing NEVER LEAVES THE MAIN MONITOR.

This way, while I’m checking my mailing list or researching a new promo or chatting with my writing partners about character motivations, the main story never leaves my line of sight until it’s finished.

Because, yes, I will forget to write.

Tip Two

Noise-canceling headphones. Working from home has been my MO for a long time, but now my partner is ALSO working from home, and the tap tap tap of another keyboard, and our dogs crying to be picked up, and our chickens whining because they’re brats who want mealworms every minute of the day will drive me insane.

It will drive me insane. Press-my-head-against-the-keyboard-and-key-smash insane.

Thus, headphones. Good for marriages and deadlines.

Tip Three

If you notice you’re straying from your word document and checking social media, or checking for recent reviews, or checking your email, or doing anything that involves notifications, guess what?

You’re not being social media savvy, you’re scrounging for dopamine.

Go get a snack (I usually grab a cup of coffee and some chocolate), take a walk, and get back to writing.

I have to reserve all social media updates/email checks to one hour a day, or else I will accidentally refresh my email, update future posts, and mess around on Canva for the rest of the day.

Tip Four

Accountability.

I know, in my heart of hearts, that my boss will let the occasional chapter slide, and that my editor’s deadline isn’t necessarily written in stone.

I NEVER, under any circumstances barring the death of a loved one or medical emergency, turn in my work late. Because I know my brain, once allowed to be late once, will take that as permanent permission to work as slowly as possible.

It’s kind of how I keep my house clean by inviting people over and then desperately panic-cleaning. If there’s a deadline (and I keep it written on the dry-erase board above my computer) then there will be words written by that deadline.

Will they be the best?

No.

But they’ll be there, and writing is all in the editing, anyway.

Tip Five

I debated whether to add this, but it might help someone.

I am a pantser.

I plot everything.

I spent too many years with meandering first drafts that lost the plot mid-way, only to start new, shiny drafts that eventually met the same sad end. It was a revelation when I got my first ghostwriting job and detailed outline.

I thought I would lose interest in writing if everything was detailed ahead of time, and you know what? I did. Sometimes I hated it. Sometimes sitting down to write was as fun as a trip to the dentist.

But guess what? It got done. For the first time in my life, I was finishing draft after draft. And once that first draft is done, the work is the same, except I was making less huge structural changes in my second draft, and producing more polished work.

Writing is work. I’m not going to love every day of it. So I save my free-writing for character discovery and keep my novels as structured as possible.

In Conclusion

Nothing beats medicine for me, but there are times in my life when I couldn’t use it: when pregnant or breastfeeding, between insurance, or just struggling to get my life juggled enough to make that first doctor’s appointment in a new town.

Hopefully this helps some of you in similar situations!

2 thoughts on “Writing and ADHD

  1. I hear ya! I am Adhd, and CPTSD. My hubby lovingly calls my life “Short Attention Span Theater”. In short, it means I work a burst of energy on one thing for a few hours, then I’m off to do something else. while some would see this as a disability, I chose to look at it differently. Yeah, I may not be able to focus on something for 8 hours… but I can and do focus on 3 or more things at once during that time. I always have multiple irons in the fire between writing, crafting, sewing, tending house, etc. I actually accomplish more than most people do in a day. Probably why I’m so far along in Nano. I do 50k like a cake walk…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s incredible multi-tasking! I found I naturally start doing…simply because I started doing laundry or fixing a fence and then realized I was supposed to still be writing lol

      But yes, the words do fly by when you’re following the ADHD method! Good luck on your Nano!!

      Liked by 1 person

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